Mr Punch and the Dark

Mr Punch has been on my mind a lot of late. He has taken up residence in one of the rooms in our house along with his booth, his entourage of peculiar puppet characters and his sausage machine. My husband, Ken, has been rehearsing his own version of Punch’s Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy story. Our dog barks wildly whenever she hears Mr Punch’s shrill, piercing voice. I know how she feels. There is something both compelling and horrifying about Punch. One day, I suspect Mr Punch, Ken and I will go on a long journey together – a tour around Australia perhaps – but for now I’m simply trying to figure him out and come to terms with having him as a permanent presence in my home.

It’s strange to think of generations of English childen watching Mr Punch’s very dark and scary show. Neil Gaiman’s illustrated story ‘The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr Punch” tells a version of a boy growing up in the shadow of his families tragedies that echo the violence and drama of a seaside Punch show. The story is really a picture book for teenagers and adults.

Mr Punch knows all about the dark and isn’t afraid to play with the devil, death and our blackest thoughts. Maybe this is why there is still something about him that is so fascinating and also why it’s very difficult to shape his story for younger children. So many fairy tales from Grimm’s to Hans Anderson were full of unpalatable darkness. We don’t read the original versions to little children anymore. Perhaps that’s why there are so many more dark stories for teenagers. They’ve had to wait a little longer before they test themselves against the tragedies and twisted comedies that Mr Punch presents so blithely.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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